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Labor Daze By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, August 30, 2000


In Europe, since the Second International proclaimed it in 1889, the holiday for organized labor has been May 1st.

This was the day the Soviets paraded their tanks and rockets in Red Square.

This was Beltane, the ancient Celtic pagan holiday of comparably phallic May Poles, sprinklings for the May Queen, and frolic. It was named for Bel, the Celtic sun god, and was also called the day of fire. Beltane’s celebration began at sunset on the final day of April, and that night was known in Europe as Walpurgisnacht, or the night of witches consorting with the cloven-hoofed one.

This was doubtless the biggest reason May 1st was embraced by atheist socialists. Another reason, some scholars believe, is because it was one of the few calendar days socialists could organize annual celebrations without a competing Christian church service day that lured religious workers away.

So Europe’s day for workers falls in springtime, a season for planting seeds in barren fields and hoping for success after the cold darkness of winter.

America’s Labor Day on the first Monday each September, by contrast, is celebrated in the season of harvest, of workers enjoying the fruits of their successful labor.

America’s Labor Day came first, celebrated with a parade in 1882 in New York City. In 1887 it was made a state holiday in Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. Twenty-three states had enacted Labor Day by 1894, the year President Grover Cleveland signed the bill making it a national holiday (and the same year Cleveland sent troops to end the Pullman Strike in Chicago).

“Labor Day differs in every essential from the other holidays of the year in any country,” proclaimed American Federation of Labor founder and president Samuel Gompers. “Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

When asked what his members were demanding, Gompers famously replied with one word: “More!” Unlike Europe’s International Workingman’s Association, which aimed to politically impose ideological socialism and Marxism, American organized labor under pioneering leaders like Gompers generally strove pragmatically to win more for its union workers. Few were collectivists bent on forcing everybody into One Big Union or Hillary Clinton’s totalitarian village.

Many efforts have been made by ideologues and politicians to co-opt the American labor movement for their own purposes. Despite Gompers’ efforts to keep unions free from corrupting ties to government and political parties, the labor movement has generally allied itself with the Democratic Party.

But to its credit organized labor in the United States has largely avoided the socialist, Marxist, and political excesses of labor in Europe and much of the rest of the world.

By not killing or unduly expropriating the capitalist goose that laid golden eggs, industrial workers in places like Detroit were lifted from what Marx called the proletariat working class up to the middle class. They could afford to buy fine homes and send their children to college. And upon becoming middle class, they acquired middle class concerns such as a dislike for high taxes. Today, up to 40 percent of union members ignore the directives of fat-cat union bosses and vote Republican.

But the union dues coerced from such workers are used for political contributions, and nearly 100 percent of those dollars go to elect Democrats without ever taking a preference vote of union members.

Virtually the first action of the Clinton-Gore Administration upon taking office in 1993 was to remove from the nation’s workplaces the notices informing workers how they could withhold union dues spent on politicians with whom they disagreed. It’s worth remembering this every time one hears Al Gore prate about the importance of “choice.”

Organized labor is now being politicized in another way.

Today in America more people work for government than are employed in manufacturing, in making things like cars and toasters.

For decades the thrust of organized labor has been to unionize this growing segment of the “work” force. John Sweeney is the first head of the AFL-CIO to come from a union the majority of whose members are government employees.

Only about 15 percent of American workers are union members, and the only significant growth in unionizing is among government workers.

This is producing some deep fracture lines, including some scarcely mentioned in this year’s political discussion.

How did Bill Clinton and Al Gore know they could retain union support despite their cozying up to international corporations and sending a million American jobs or more overseas through sweetheart deals with Communist China? Clinton and Gore betrayed blue collar American workers - stabbed them in the back.

But the fat-cats running the AFL-CIO and other key unions now see their future power in white-collar government employees, not blue-collar industrial workers.

Twenty-five percent of the delegate votes that nominated Clinton and Gore at the 1992 Democratic National Convention came from officials and members of teachers unions, among the largest of unions feeding at the taxpayer trough.

And this year Democrat quotas meant that 45 percent of delegates at its 2000 Convention (three times their proportion of America’s population) were union executives and members; a majority of these were from unions with government employee members.

Decades ago a blue-collar union movement might have favored low taxes for its workers and government policies that kept private industry prosperous.

Today the AFL-CIO favors whatever will make government bigger. Government healthcare, higher taxes, and a waning private sector all create more government jobs - jobs that already are or soon will be unionized without a vote of the “workers.” This is the kingdom of politics.

The old symbiosis between labor and the Democrats was that government would coerce employers into unionizing. Democrats would then be rewarded with a big cut of coerced union dues.

The new symbiosis is that Democrats expand the size of government, unionizing the new government jobs as they appear. Government unions then reward Democrats with a fat cut of coerced union dues.

But in this new paradigm, the union dues come not from the private marketplace, not from consumer choice nor prosperity, but from dollars coerced out of taxpayers.

In effect, government unionization is a money-laundering operation to transfer tax dollars into the coffers of the Democratic Party. It’s a kickback, bribe, and payoff to the very politicians entrusted by the public with responsibly employing and regulating government workers. And that coerced union and taxpayer money is used by the hundreds of millions of dollars to buy re-election for Democrats.

Do government employees complain? Most have pleasant enough jobs, getting more pay and perks and pensions than they could earn in the private sector on which they live as parasites. Prior to unionization, government employees were given job security for the trade-off of below-market wages; today the average government bureaucrat earns more and gets better benefits than his or her private sector counterpart.

Unlike blue collar workers who sweat on an assembly line or in front of a blast furnace, these white-collar government employees rarely perspire. Paper shuffling is not heavy lifting. And no government bureaucrat worries about losing his job to a government worker in Beijing or Malaysia. Government workers do not look too hard for the union label if they can buy something made in China for $2 less than its American-made version at Wal-Mart.

Unlike blue collar workers, who resent growing taxation and regulation of their lives (e.g., the union workers who make Pennsylvania America’s #1 state for weekend hunters and do not much like Al Gore’s lust to confiscate guns), government employees see their future salaries, promotions, and job security in an ever-expanding government. If they too pay too much taxes, at least the money is going to, rather than being confiscated from, their employer.

Every social need, every grievance, every fear is a new opportunity to make government - and public employee unions - bigger. And unions are eager to fertilize such opportunities and to be active in government-enlarging politics.

At the local level, teacher unions are organizing to elect their operatives to school boards, the very boards that negotiate with and regulate teachers. It is now commonplace to see city council candidates boast of being endorsed by “police,” when what this means is the local police union with whom the city council reaches wage and benefit agreements.

At the state level, government unions are major political players, intimidating legislators and, where available, manipulating the initiative and referendum process. The California Teachers Association passed an initiative to require that any future state surplus go to schools instead of being returned to taxpayers. The CTA is by November expected to spend $40 million to defeat with a blitz of advertising smears a popular ballot initiative to create school vouchers, exacting a special charge on its members for this political effort. (Such referendums expend money the union would otherwise have given to Democrat politicians.)

At the national level, Gore’s running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman was forced to recant his kosher belief in vouchers and parental choice and to gulp down the filthy pork demanded by teacher unions in monopoly socialist public schools. By this genuflection, Gore showed that he would betray and enslave millions of black children in a life-wrecking bad education in wretched public schools in order to serve greedy, powerful union bosses. Such unions - monopolies within the governmental monopoly -- are the biggest contributors, in both money and manpower, to the Democratic Party.

But such unions are more than greedy. They are also, in many cases, ideological. The National Education Association, e.g., wants not only to employ as many dues-paying teachers as possible but also to use them to teach politically-correct values to America’s children. The NEA’s three R’s are no longer readin’, ritin’, and ‘rithmetic - but racism, recycling, and reproduction (and often with a fourth R thrown in, Ritalinâ, to make sure boys do not act like males).

Implicit in this NEA agenda, it seems, is the systematic dumbing down of our kids. After all, if kids were literate, knew history, and could think logically, none would grow up to vote for Democrats.

What do I mean? For example, Democrats have been telling us for months that (1) George W. Bush deserves no credit for being Governor of Texas because that state has a “weak governor” system, and (2) Bush deserves complete blame for Houston, Texas, being America’s most air-polluted city. A logical person would recognize that if Bush is so weak as Governor, he cannot be blamed; Democrats can argue #1 or #2, but not both simultaneously. A knowledgeable person would know that Houston is controlled by Democrats, and that Gorenvironmental nut Carol Browner, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, monitored the air much more intensely in Houston than anywhere else to give Democrats a weapon, which is one more example of Democrats politicizing and perverting science.

(A sardonic person like your columnist would note that new data shows Los Angeles has just reclaimed the title from Houston as America’s smoggiest city - so by Democrat logic doesn’t this make California’s ultra-leftist Democrat Governor Gray Davis, in a “strong governor” state, responsible for causing America’s worst air pollution? I’ve heard no liberal in the media raise this obvious question.)

Governor Davis days ago signed a Democrat-passed bill making the day before April Fools Day a California State Holiday honoring the birthday of labor leader Cesar Chavez. Chavez became a hero to Latinos and liberals by creating the United Farm Workers union. He fought against “sweatshops of the soil,” led a boycott of table grapes, and embraced Bobby Kennedy. Chavez also got various goodies at taxpayer expense from Democrats. And true to his nickname Little Caesar, those in the fields who questioned him risked being visited late at night by thugs and goons and having their arms and legs broken (not an unusual occurrence in labor organizing).

One other item left unmentioned by the liberal media in its deification of Cesar Chavez is that the farm workers would have been unionized whether he existed or not. The Teamsters Union, with immensely more experience, was eager to organize them.

But whatever other flaws and corruptions it might have, the Teamsters Union usually worked for itself and its members - not for some Left-wing ideological agenda. True to the tradition of Samuel Gompers, the Teamsters Union was, for part of its history, not owned by the Democratic Party. It was capable of endorsing Richard Nixon, and this year of threatening to support Ralph Nader (and even hypothetically for a moment, Pat Buchanan) against Communist China’s sock puppet and blue-collar America’s backstabber Al Gore.

Chavez’s union, by contrast, has always been a reliable ally of the ideological extreme Left, supporting both its politicians and whole loony bin of politically-correct causes, both foreign and domestic. So although the Teamsters might have gotten more income and better living conditions for Latino workers, liberal Democrats betrayed these Hispanics (as they have black children) and threw their support to the United Farm Workers.

And liberals now continue to use Little Caesar even after his death. His new March 31st holiday will be a day for mobilizing Latinos in California to vote Democratic. It will also be a paid holiday for California government employees. I applaud such holidays - and would like to see 365 of them each year. (Before its demise, the Roman Empire celebrated something like 148 holidays each year, so this direction has been taken before.) If we must pay all these millions of unionized government employees, then at least let us have the safety of their not being in an office justifying their jobs by finding ways to regulate or bother us. It took a few years to turn Labor Day into a national holiday. If Al Gore wins in November and Democrats retake congress, you can expect within four years to see Cesar Chavez Day turned into a day off for all unionized government employees.

What will this mean when on November 8th an outgoing Bill Clinton by Executive Order unionizes America’s armed forces as in the Netherlands? Our soldiers, sailors, and pilots will also get Cesar Chavez Day off, and may, as discussed in this column before, be encouraged to go on strike or catch “camouflage flu” if denied time-and-a-half pay for overtime in combat. Happy Labor Day.

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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